Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Thomas Todd Blaylock: dawn to dusk

Due to popular demand, a post on the Scottish printmaker Thomas Todd Blaylock (1876 - 1929). Despite having trained at the Royal College of Art in London, I think for a long time he had the reputation of being an also-ran. This is probably because he has been best known for his vases of flowers, which put him in the same category as John Hall Thorpe, who of course is better known. So, I've decided to concentrate on his landscapes.

He was born in Langholm in Dumfries and, as I say, eventually trained in London at the RCA, presumably some time after the college gained its modern name in 1896. True to the time he also painted and made etchings (the RCA had the most important course in the country). The painterly side to him certainly comes across strrongly in these very decorative prints. They are also deceptively simple. The bold shapes and saturated colours have alot in common with his north American contemporaries and much as I admire his panache I have to say I also remain unconvinced by claims that he is under-rated. He is an enjoyable decorative artist who doesn't need any untoward claims made for him.

For instance, looking at the image above I am filled with a sense of foreboding. I remember the many Edwardian genre watercolours I have seen in chilly auction rooms - the sloppy sails and unlikely sunsets. But what really makes me suspicious about him is the way rarely he indicates a source of light - either directly or by using shadow. The top image of Christchurch Priory, Hampshire, which is one of his most successful, does show a few stars but to my mind is reminiscent of the night scenes etched by Leslie Moffat Ward (1888 - 1978) who like Todd Blaylock also happened to live at Poole in Dorset. But it's a cruder colour version of Ward's engaging and lyrical images of the Dorset landscape. (Todd Blaylock also lived at Salisbury in Hampshire).

With other images he was rather less concerned about the time of day. In them you have people yachting in what appears to be near darkness, only to find the same people in the same image out in their boats on a crisp bright morning. He merely makes colours more intense and uses more dramatic brushwork to suggest a time of day that could be either dawn or dusk but is some form of twilight. I'm not sure why he did this and I don't think he was too bothered about editions but you have to admire his chutzpah and at the end of the day these images when he doesn't overdo it - and quite often he does - would make jolly additions to any wall, specially if you have some Poole pottery on the mantleshelf. But serious, he isn't. And neither should his prices be. I mean I would buy one but I wouldn't take out a mortgage.

Nor do I know how and where he learned to make colour woodcut but almost all these images must have been made after the first war. The only real nod to Hokusai is in the application of paint and for all the 1920s riot of colour, as this image of Poole Harbour shows, he never really threw off pre-war genre painting. And as the poor man didn't live to see the 1930s, it doesn't really matter.

Gerrie Caspers has a post on Todd Blaylock's flower prints on The Linosaurus. The link is in the comments section. I must credit for at least some of these images. And also for the vase of daffs which is no longer for sale. Thank you to them both.


  1. well, you surely did crop it beautifully. the image that gives you forboding gives me california... william rice... frances gearhart...

    and it's interesting to me; i would have guessed that he was later... almost venturing into the squared lines and reverse relief of the white line prints that came out of provincetown.

  2. Glad you like the post. I wonder if he knew people like Rice and Gearhart. But they were doing something more sophisticated. There just isn't enough biography available on him.

    It's not the image itself fills me with dread! It's just the memory of all those awful genre watercolours I used to see.

  3. whew! i was about to suggest you never come to california! ;^)

  4. I think combined we cover Blaylock's prints pretty well now. Thanks for mentioning the flowers.
    the Linosaurus:

  5. Not quite but perhaps Lily could cover the dreaded etchings.

  6. so... those marigolds (or whatever) are his??! they really do look like hall thorpe, or some other guys...

    meanwhile.... HUH?

  7. Well, he did other stuff apart from colour woodcuts but speaking personally I've gone about as far as I can go with Tom. So if someone would like to post on the etchings...

    You mean you don't have buttercups in California?

  8. Thank you for your entry on Thomas Todd Blaylock! Having picked up one of his pieces as a 15 year-old kid with my Father in 1985, I've come to cherish it. There isn't much information on Mr Blaylock, but you've covered what I really wanted to know. Thank you!

  9. The flowers are 'Marsh Marigolds' native in wet grasslands of the UK.

  10. Shaun, thank you for reading right to the end! Goodness knows how I got that wrong because I see marsh marigolds every year in ponds and rivers and I love them. Interesting to see they morphed from being daffs to buttercups. Now we know.

  11. Hello,
    I have a T. T. Blaylock print polyanthus I wish to sell. If anyone is interested please reply. I live in Vancouver Canada.
    Thank you.